Review of Dark Ascension by M.L. Brennan

Vampires and Elves and Foxes, Oh My!

My reviews of the first three books in the Generation V series are hereDark Ascension is book four M.L. Brennan’s series about adorkable, bleeding-heart vampire and crappy-job holding twentysomething Fortitude Scott (Fort for short). Life isn’t so bad for Fortitude Scott anymore. He has a slightly less crappy job. He has a slightly less crappy car. He has a roommate who pays his rent on time and only occasionally leaves human organs in the fridge. He has a fine stripper kitsune girlfriend. And he’s been able to put off the transition to full vampire. His life is about to change, though, as his mother approaches death.

The vampire transition is such that Fort looks entirely different on each cover. It is unclear whether Suzume considers this a bug or a feature.

The vampire transition is such that Fort looks entirely different on each cover. It is unclear whether Suzume considers this a bug or a feature.

Vampires are the apex predators of Brennan’s supernatural world, and Fort’s mother Madeline Scott governs all of the supernatural creatures in a territory that covers New England and part of eastern Canada. Fort, his vicious sister Prudence (Fort is also known as “Fortitude Scott—Holy Shit, We’re Glad You’re Not Your Sister”), and his, er, chivalrous and old-fashioned brother Chivalry act as her lieutenants. Brennan’s canon is baroque to say the least, but suffice to say Fort is halfway in his transition to becoming a full vampire, still reliant on his mother for blood and not possessing full vampire strength and speed.

The first three books were carried in good part by the unresolved sexual tension between Fort and Suzume, his kitsune bodyguard. The obvious concern, with Fort and Suzume getting together at the end of book three, is that the story would suffer going forward, as so many TV shows have (I’m told by people who watch TV). Delightfully, though, Fort and Suzume’s (Forzume? Suzurt?) burgeoning relationship is a strength. Suzume, as always, provides much of the levity, including by proxy when Chivalry asks Fort if he is in trouble because his bodyguard has been [air quotes] working nights [air quotes], to which Fort is forced to reply that they’re dating, to the intense discomfort of both parties. What is a kitsune, you ask? Tricksters of Japanese extraction who can turn into foxes.

No further explanation needed.

No further explanation needed.

The other major supernatural group is the elves, a thankful far cry from the boring, derivative elves hoisted on us for so long:

I think he just wanted to see my whole reaction to him, because there was no way to look at him and not have a reaction. He was one of the scions of the elves, that was without a doubt, and carrying a lot more of the blood than Lilah did. Early to midtwenties, and tall, perhaps an inch taller than I was, and I hit the six-foot mark. Like Lilah, he wasn’t wearing a glamour. I’d seen the Neighbors who were genetically close to their forebears before without their glamours, and the sight had not been a pleasant one—the almost reptilian cast of the Adhene features didn’t mix well with human bone structure, and there was an awkwardness, almost a repulsiveness, in those Neighbors when they weren’t wearing their glamours. They didn’t have that certain something, that indefinable allure that the true elves had that made strange features compelling and attractive, that overrode the signals our from the primitive, dark parts of our brains that rejected something as other, as ugly, and instead made it beautiful.

This man had that. His neck was just slightly too long for his body, his features cut at angles that no human would possess, but that weird fey beauty was there, making it hard to look away from him. His hair was pure black, but with a silkiness and a texture that reminded me of Suzume’s fur when she was a fox rather than a human. His skin was pale, not in the translucent way that showed veins and blushes, but pale and glittering like morning frost, almost like a hard exterior. His eyes were the color of plums taken right from the tree, and his pupil was vertical, like a lizard’s.

(At least he didn’t have antlers like a full-blooded elf.)

Minor creature groups include the metsan kuniga (werebears), ghouls (who aside from an occasional meal of human flesh usually stick to their day jobs at funeral homes and butcher shops), witches, succubi (who provide the initial conflict in the story when a small group wants to move into the territory and needs the Scott’s approval), and the return of the revolting and horrific skinwalkers (a skinwalker is placed on the mantle right near the beginning. Where True Blood had a taste for taking things to their bizarre, profane logical conclusions, Generation V has a taste more for the absurd. The post-effects from a succubi feeding rather resemble herpes. Vampires have to pee immediately after feeding directly on a human (hey, it’s a lot of liquid).

A little levity is need, because things get dark for Fort. After six hundred years plus walking the Earth, Madeline Scott, the matriarch of the Scott family, is about to die. The narrative is largely driven by other supernatural groups reacting to the impending death and the Scott siblings coming to grip with sharing increased power over the territory.

It’s a bit of a slow burn. Without a lot of action or new introductions to the canon, the story is carried by its poignancy, humor, and absolutely nailing the relationship between Fort and Suzume, including their first big fight. There has also been a very effective metaphorical aspect to the Generation V series, about growing up, about coming to grips with a family with older mores and a different perspective, and so on. And grow up Fort has, although he has never quite become a realist.

The Generation V series also, funnily enough, works as regional fiction under the definition I gave in my Killing Pretty review. It is not just a story entrenched in and suffused with New England, but with Rhode Island.

4/5 stars.

Postscript: M.L. Brennan has announced that the Generation V series is on indefinite hiatus.  (It’s a pretty great post answering questions on the series and is worth reading in its entirety.  Brennan obliquely addresses, among other things, my criticism of Fort’s actions at the end of book 4 and the change in covers (I’ll stick with my headcanon, thank you very much).)

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About H.P.

Blogs on speculative fiction books at Every Day Should Be Tuesday.
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4 Responses to Review of Dark Ascension by M.L. Brennan

  1. I actually have that picture of the foxes in my research files. God, I love Japan.

    Liked by 1 person

    • H.P. says:

      There was a litter of fox kits living behind my mom’s house one spring that would come out under the garage light to play at night. It was the greatest thing ever.

      Like

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